I delivered a couple of antiques, some lovely old china and several nice paintings to a local auction house today. The guy had come out a few days ago to eyeball my holdings and estimate what they might bring at auction next month.
It was really depressing.
This 2,400 year-old ceramic water jug from Greece, for example, was brought here from Europe by my grandfather in the 1930s. It was appraised four years ago at $1000. But the auction guy said cheap copies of such antiquities are now readily available, so no one wants to pay for the real thing. Besides, who wants to worry about the real thing breaking? (!) “Well, fine,” I said (suppressing harsher words), “I’m keeping it then.”
Then there is my Grandmother’s gold-rimmed Lenox china (see above). It’s 100 years old, and yet very modern and simple in design. 6 place settings plus platters, serving bowls, etc. all in perfect condition. “Maybe we’ll get $200,” he said. I muttered something crude under my breath.
A lovely Austrian clock from 1880 (which cost $600 at an antique store in 1976 – $2278 in today’s dollars – and is still in perfect working condition)? “I estimate $300 to $400…” This was something that should have APpreciated over time, not DEpreciated.
OK. I can deal with the indignity of being told my Preciouses are worth shit today. They’re just things, I tell myself.
And mostly I’m all right with the financial loss, knowing that someone will be happy to snap them up at a bargain price, and might even come to love them.
But then I had to deliver my art deco oak sideboard, which the auctioneer expected to sell for about what I paid for it back in 1975. It was one of my first major purchases for the house I bought after my first husband died (very young, of cancer). It anchored the dining room as a place where our little family could begin to come together in a new way. I kept our silver, placemats, napkins, and fancy glasses in it – and out of its capaciousness I set the table for many many family meals, holiday celebrations and convivial evenings with friends. (Not shown here is a lovely leaded glass cabinet above the mirrored back.)
As we loaded it into the van I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears. Surprised because so far I’ve been pretty sanguine about the whole downsizing process. OK, I am indignant over the lowball prices, but this wasn’t about money. It was about meaning.
The auctioneer sees antique furniture and other family heirlooms like mine every day – to him it’s chopped liver. But to those of us who’ve lived for decades with the piece and imbued it with our energy and memories, it’s amputation. I walk by the place in the dining room where it’s always been and nothing is left but dust bunnies and a mark on the molding.
I suspect that as the house gets increasingly empty I’m going to want to speed up the process of getting out so I don’t have to feel the phantom pain any longer than necessary.